Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Awwwww, Bunnies!!!

Well, well, it's a big news day in the Catholic-big-family realm. Let's look at a) what Pope Francis actually said, b) what Pope Francis actually meant, and c) (in therapist-talk): "How does that make you feel?" Except I'm going to jump to part c first.

When I read last night's headline, "Pope Francis Says Catholics Shouldn't Breed Like Rabbits," I first thought this was an article from The Onion. Or perhaps from Eye of the Tiber, a Catholic satirical news website. But no, it's legit. So, taking the quote out of context, (which, let's face it, is what almost all secular new outlets and folks who are hostile to the church our going to do), here was my initial reaction in a thread on a Catholic Facebook page: 

Well, I just got done putting my litter of seven bunnies to bed. And I do feel insulted. As someone else here said, it is a phrase used in a derogatory way against us large family folks who, you know, actually try to follow the church's teaching. Look, there *are* grave reasons to use NFP to avoid pregnancy for a time, but they go way beyond "not feeling like you can handle" having a child. If we go with that reasoning, then very few folks would ever have kids. But back to the Pope... I never thought I'd be made to feel personally insulted by the Pope. Do I get a badge for that?

And, after ruminating on it for another hour or so:

In thinking about it more, I think the problem with the phrase is that it is often used by people to imply that people with large families are stupid, animalistic, unable to control their bodily urges, and irresponsible. When really, most of us are intelligent, loving folks who are fully aware of all the work and responsibility it takes to bring another child into the world, and we CHOOSE to make those sacrifices. So, no, Pope Francis, you're right. Catholics don't have to breed like rabbits. And I'm not. I thought I was breeding like a *Catholic.*

And, after sleeping on it and reading more folks' comments this morning:

If the Pope meant to say specifically that Catholics in extreme poverty should be encouraged to learn and use NFP when necessary, then yes, and that's how he should have said it! The problem is that he tends to speak extemporaneously, in an off-the-cuff, inexact manner. And it seems like he feels like he's only speaking to a local audience, the people in that city, or in that room. But he is the POPE, and everything he says is going to reported everywhere, repeated endlessly by friend and foe alike, and becomes grist for the mill. I now have athiest/agnostic friends & family messaging me this morning, saying, "See what the Pope said? Catholics don't need to have so many kids anymore!" So the Pope... the POPE, for Pete's sake!!!!!.... has today made my having a large family more challenging due to ill-advised remarks. It is extremely frustrating.

Now. Let's look at what Pope Francis actually said. (part a)
(you can find the full transcript here. I'm sorry, it's America magazine.)

Christoph Schmidt (CIC): How does the Church respond to the criticisms about its position on birth control given that the world population is growing so much. And to the criticism that the poverty in the Philippines is due to the fact that Filipino women have an average of 3 children each?

PF:I think the number of 3 (children) per family that you mentioned, it is the one experts say is important to keep the population going,. three per couple. When it goes below this, the other extreme happens, like what is happing in Italy. I have heard, I do not know if it is true, that in 2024 there will be no money to pay pensioners (because of) the fall in population.

Therefore, to give you an answer, they key word is the one the Church always uses all the time and even I use it: it is responsible parenthood. how do we do this? With dialogue. Each person with his pastor seeks how to do that responsible parenthood .

That example I mentioned shortly before about that woman who was expecting her eighth (child) and already had seven who were born with caesareans. That is an irresponsibility (That woman might say) 'no but I trust in god' But God gives you methods to be responsible. Some think that, excuse me if i use that word, that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood! This is clear and that is why in the church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors, one can seek and i know so many, many ways out that are licit and that have helped this. you did well to ask me this

Another thing in relation to this is that for the most poor people, a child is a treasure. It is true that you have to be prudent here too but for them a child is a treasure. (Some would say) 'God knows how to help me' and perhaps some of them are not prudent, this is true. Responsible paternity but let us also look at the generosity of that father and mother that see a treasure in every child.

Okaaaaaay. So let's unpack that a bit. Pope Francis is speaking following his trip to Manila, the Philippines. It is a highly Catholic country, 80%, with roughly 76 million Catholics. It also suffers from extreme poverty, miles and miles of huts constructed out of trash, More than one-quarter of the population falls below the poverty line, (27.6%), although that is an improvement , since in 1991 that figure was 33.1%. And that poverty line? 16,841 Philippine pesos per year, which equals about $378 USD. So, absolutely, the poverty is *real*. 

It would be easy to draw some quick conclusions: "The Philippines is highly Catholic. Catholics have big families. Therefore, the fact of too many children is causing the extreme poverty, and thus, they should have fewer (or no) children." Slap hands, neat tidy answer, done. But one could also say that while children suffer from poverty, that does not automatically make them the cause of it. They should be helped, families should receive aid, and opportunity... but just reducing family size will *not* solve the problems. There is also the matter of Corruption. With a capital "c". 

The Philippines is almost universally recognized as one of the most corrupt governments in the world. People my age will remember the astounding visual of Imelda Marcos' shoe collection, but it goes way beyond that. Their President Gloria Arroyo was arrested on graft charges in 2011. In June 2014, 2 senators and a veteran government official were arrested for embezzling over $5m from the Priority Development Assistance Fund. The list goes on and on, stretching back decades. Might not cleaning up the culture of corruption, graft, and bribery offer real relief to some of nation's poorest families? Here's what Pope Francis had to say about this:

"Corruption is the order of the day in today’s world, and the corrupt attitude easily and immediately finds a nest in the institutions, because an institution that has many branches here and there, so many chiefs and vice-chiefs, in this way it’s very easy for it to fall or provide a nest for corruption and every institution can fall into this. Corruption is taking from the people. The corrupt person who does corrupt deals or governs corruptly or associates himself with others in order to do corrupt deals robs the people. The victims are those -- where is he, the one with the (AGI) anniversary? -- they are those who you said were behind the luxury hotel, no? They are the victims of corruption. Corruption is not closed in on itself; it goes out and kills. Do you understand? Today corruption is a worldwide problem. Once, in 2001 more or less, I asked the chief of the cabinet of the president at that time, which was a government that we thought to be not so corrupt - and it was true, it was not so corrupt, the government: “Tell me, the aid that you send into the interior of the country, whether it be in cash or food or clothes, all these things, how much gets to the place.” Immediately this man, who is a true man, clean, (said), “35 percent.” That’s what he told me."

Clean up the vast political and financial corruption. Then you can lecture poor families, who are trying to follow the teachings of their church, about not having so many darned kids. And Pope Francis is right to point out: each child may be a treasure to their parents, no matter how tight the financial straits. Children bring hope. Joy. Laughter. Sweetness. At the risk of sounding like a baby shower greeting card, "The birth of a child makes all things new." Don't get me wrong, I know all the down and dirty of having lots of kids. Laundry, bickering, laundry, huge grocery bills, laundry, sibling rivalry, laundry, lack of personal space & "alone time." But it is absolutely worth it. It teaches each child...and the parents... to sacrifice for one another, to regard other people's needs as greater than one's own. Pope Francis himself also said, less than a month ago:

“In a world often marked by egoism, a large family is a school of solidarity and of mission that’s of benefit to the entire society."


“Every family is a cell of society, but large families are richer and more vital cells.”

Soooo... while Pope Francis is quite right to point out that Catholics in extreme poverty...such as the Philippines... should be encouraged to learn about and use NFP if they feel it is necessary, he was not telling Catholics the world over to stop having so many kids.That's a canard.
(bunny...canard....har har)

Indeed, earlier in the very same interview as the rabbit remark, he deplores what he calls the "Neo-Malthusian" mindset and the deplorable demographic death spiral of Western Europe.
So,  (cue Spanish accent),"I -do-not-think-it-means-what-you-think-it-means."

HOWEVER... it is very unfortunate that I, a mere laywoman up to her ears in laundry and fruity-scented markers, feel compelled to have to defend traditional church teaching against what the Pope ...the POPE!!... says. If I were able to give Pope Francis a message, it would be this: Please, pretty please, stop talking casually and extemporaneously to reporters on airplanes! Every colloquialism, every colorful turn of phrase, can and will be taken out of context and twisted around to fit someone else's agenda. And it makes life awfully challenging for us troops in the trenches. As St. Teresa of Avila said of the good God, "If this is the way you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few of them!!"

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